Since we’re discussing the environment, it’s important to step back and take a look at some of the aspects of our daily lives that might receive little attention, yet potential changes abound that could have a huge positive envirohuman impact.
So, standardized reusable shipping containers? Yes. At your place of work, you likely see hundreds of boxes come in the door, get unpacked, broken down, and sent off as garbage, or, hopefully, shipped out for recycling (or maybe you don’t see them, but they’re there).
Let’s take, boxes of printer paper, for example. We all likely do some printing or copying in our everyday lives, or at least use paper that someone has printed information onto in our meetings and correspondence. Billions if not trillions of sheets are printed daily. Boxes, like those at the left, are used to ship that paper to our place of work, and, once unpacked, most of them make their way to the dock of the building in which we work, again, hopefully at least for recycling.
Recycling is a good way to continue the lifecycle of usable material, but it is highly energy- and cost-intensive for the very reasons of shipping, water use, and chemical, manual, and mechancial processes that all go into continuing the cycle of that product material, like the paper fibers used in cardboard boxes. A better recycling process is one in which the material is reused again and again, hundreds, if not thousands of times before it gets sent off for recycling in which it gets broken down into its raw materials for future reproduction of new materials and goods.
What the heck am I talking about? At your place of work, you likely receive a good deal of mail, which, hopefully gets recycled when you’re finished reading it. But have you noticed the bins that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), the United Parcel Service (UPS), and Federal Express (FedEx) use to bring your mail? It’s usually a plastic-, angle-sided, open-ended container with metal reinforcements, that make these containers so reusable.
You might also receive beverages, like bottled water and sodas, that might be shipped in reusable hard plastic trays, like those here from Pepsi-Cola, that also can be reused many times before needed to be broken down again for recycling. Although I recommend you choose a better beverage option: water, served from a reusable water bottle, these trays prove that shipping materials can be made to withstand repeated use, abuse, sliding and slamming all over the country (and world!) and that disposable, one-use shipping containers need to become a rarity.
Inter-office mail systems often reuse envelopes within a building several times before discarding them, which goes to show that there are many ways in which we have built the idea of “reusability” into our daily habits. That’s something we need to take to the next level and push toward doing on an even larger scale.
On and off of postal and parcel trucks, beverage trucks, and others, we receive shipments of items from both reusable and those deemed throwaway, one-use packages. But back to those boxes of printer paper.
Printer paper typically is packaged in reams of 500 pages, wrapped in paper, and placed ten to a box. Because large businesses (and small ones, too) use so much paper, this results in millions of boxes being used for the purpose of packaging paper (only one of very many items packaged in this way) and then being tossed shortly thereafter. Why not mimmick the boxes used by our postal deliverers?
We could have plastic ones made from recycled plastic product with straight sides, metal reinforcements, and a corresponding lid that would cover the box (just like the cardboard ones have). In this manner, the boxes could be picked back up by those delivering the paper, be it OfficeMax or others. The point is that reusable packaging for such industrial products, where the packaging does not even matter to the consumer, are a great place to start with reusable packaging. USPS and Pepsi are already doing it, now how about others?
Certainly, the boxes may weight slightly more than the cardboard, however the fact that they are reusable will be a net monetary savings to the companies using them, and a net savings to the environment as our methods of shipping move toward clean, renewable fuel sources of the next decade or two. Also, the fact that less paper will be used on packaging boxes would be even more helpful.